The leftist media in this country and organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League are not the only ones given to inciting alarm about the dangers posed by evangelical Christians. Steven Stalinsky of the Middle East Media Research Institute reports that the Arab press routinely claims that American evangelicals “pose a greater danger to the world than Nazi Germany.”
An article in the Egyptian government magazine, Al-Ahram , calls for the impeachment of President Bush and describes the significance of his becoming a born-again Christian. “Suddenly he was gripped with the desire to repent and to be born again . . . A group of neocon radicals latched onto him and began to mould him to serve their power-hungry designs which entailed capitalizing on the growing tide of American Christian fundamentalism.”
Muqtedar Khan of the University of Delaware and the Brookings Institute writes regularly for the Arab press and has a somewhat different line on what drives those nefarious evangelicals. “Christian evangelicals are seeking to stem the tide of conversions to Islam.” Islam, he says, is “attracting thousands of converts.” “While the traffic from Christianity to Islam is very heavy, the reverse flow, much to the frustration of evangelists [sic], is barely a trickle. This tirade of hate from the evangelists is merely the continuation of a very old Christian preoccupation with the demonization of Muhammad.” Khan cites as an example Dante’s consigning the Prophet to “the bowels of hell.”
It is true that over the last several decades Islam—albeit in Americanized forms—has made many converts, notably among black Americans in the prison system. This has been a continuing concern of efforts such as Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship. Apart from that, however, there is hardly a “tide of conversions to Islam” in American society.
Nor is it evident that evangelicals are more wary of Islam than most Americans. At the bottom of the many misunderstandings and deliberate distortions in the Arab world is the refusal to understand why Americans—especially after September 11—perceive Islam, in its most public and aggressive presentation of itself, as a very real threat.
In this connection I warmly recommend a new book from Yale University Press, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror , by Mary Habeck of Johns Hopkins. I will be giving it more detailed attention in a forthcoming issue of F IRST T HINGS .
I mentioned that minor confusion with Basic Books on the publication date for the new book, Catholic Matters . Several of you wrote in sympathy, with horror stories from your own experience with publishers. None came up to John Locke’s reflection on the subject:
Books seem to me to be pestilent things, and infest all that trade in them with something very perverse and brutal. Printers, binders, sellers, and others that make a trade and gain out of them have universally so odd a turn and corruption of mind that they have a way of dealing peculiar to themselves, and not conformed to the good of society and that general fairness which cements mankind.
Let me quickly add that the confusion with Basic Books was indeed minor, and that, of the numerous books I have committed with the complicity of many publishers, working with Basic on the last three has been, all in all, a pleasant experience.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J., writes:
Knopf has brought out Richard Carwardine’s Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power . Of the making of biographies of Abraham Lincoln there will never be an end, nor should there be. In that teeming multitude, Carwardine’s study can make a special claim on the reader’s attention, and for several reasons. First, his is the first book on Lincoln by a non-American to win the Lincoln prize, the most prestigious award given by the historians’ guild for a work in nineteenth-century American history. (Carwardine is a professor of history at Oxford University; his biography was first published in the United Kingdom in 2003 but is only now appearing for the first time in a revised edition in the United States.)
Second, this is no ordinary biography: the author rarely adverts to Lincoln’s boyhood in Kentucky, his difficult marriage, his debilitating bouts of depression, his failures to make his generals fight a war rather than just organize an army for an eventual war, and so on. Rather, this is a study of Lincoln’s mind and, above all, of his skills in soldering together, so to speak, the DNA of the Republican Party.
From that perspective, this superbly intelligent study can make a further claim on the reader¯its contemporary relevance. According to Carwardine, Lincoln’s central political achievement came from his unique outlook, one that enabled him to yoke the natural-law morality of the Declaration of Independence to the religious fervor of evangelical Christianity: "In antebellum Illinois, as elsewhere, the political fault lines commonly coincided with religious and ethnic ones. Alert to the power of religious opinion, Lincoln fused appeals to Protestant millennialism and Enlightenment rationalism. The orthodox Protestantism which underpinned the ethical stance of Republicans and much of the wartime Union collation â¦ was not Lincoln’s religious faith. But he shrewdly harnessed the power of the most politically influential and energetic members of that constituency, both to win the presidency and to rally support behind his national vision and the war’s purposes."
This opening thesis statement is not as cynical as it might sound. In fact, Lincoln’s religion was that of the Founding Fathers: "The Declaration of Independence, in which he rooted his arguments during the 1850s, was for Lincoln more than a time-bound expression of political grievance. It was a near-sanctified statement of universal principles, and one that squared with essential elements of his personal faith: belief in a God who had created all men equal and whose relations with humankind were based on the principles of justice.
Lincoln found the scriptural basis of the Declaration in the book of Genesis: if humankind was created in the image of God, then ‘the justice of the Creator’ had to be extended equally ‘to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man.’ As he told an audience at Lewistown, Illinois, the Founders had declared that ‘nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.’"
One does not have to concede to President George W. Bush the rhetorical brilliance or the political savvy of Lincoln to see that Republicans keep winning elections because they have, at least since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, turned to the same strategy that made Lincoln so brilliant a President. For mostly economic reasons, evangelicals largely supported the Democrats during the postbellum and Progressivist years. But with the twin shocks of the Scopes Trial and the later banning of prayers in the public schools (and, above all, with the Democrats’ subsequent embrace of a sterile and jejune secularism), all that has changed. Democrats who wonder why they keep losing elections should ignore books on "what’s wrong with Kansas" and study this book instead.
(Click here to email the author about this item. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago.)
In addition to which :
This coming Sunday, Father Neuhaus will be saying Mass and preaching at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church at 230 East 90th St. in New York (between 2nd and 3rd avenues). Copies of his new book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth will be available at a discount price of $20. Signed copies of the book will be available following the 11:15am Mass and Father Neuhaus will be signing copies following the 12:30 Mass.
Avery Cardinal Dulles says of Catholic Matters :
"It would be difficult to find a guide so knowledgeable, so theologically astute, and so engaging as a writer. Father Neuhaus presents the ‘high adventure’ of a Catholic orthodoxy that stands firmly against the winds of adversity and confusion."